No, this isn't a review, but until I write more content befitting another category, the Reviews section is where this entry will remain.
I'm going to go category-by-category through the winners of the 2015 Oscars, a ceremony that I thankfully did not watch, although I was exposed to ABC's atrocious consolation prize to those of us unfortunate enough not to have cable, which was their live backstage coverage. Oy.
Best Short Film, Live Action
Winner: The Phone Call (called it)
Although I did not see this film - nor any of the other short films, save for one - I am not entirely surprised that it took home the gold. It is the only one that features big-name stars (that is, Mike Leigh veterans Sally Hawkins and the voice of Jim Broadbent), in addition to maintaining a motif that carried over into the documentary short victor: that of a suicide hotline. The short films section is one that is often ripe for misery, and from what I hear, The Phone Call is no exception.
Best Short Film, Animated
Winner: Feast (called it)
This is the only short I had seen, because it played before another of the night's winners, Big Hero 6. Feast may be slight, but like the previous Disney-backed winner, Paperman (which played before Wreck-It Ralph), it tells a delightfully wordless story that is of perfect length and just the right amount of sentimentality. If only Disney could adopt such rigor in its feature-length offerings, both animated and live action.
Best Documentary, Short Subject
Winner: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 (called it)
Like the aforementioned The Phone Call, this film is concerned with a suicide hotline, the users of which are detailed in the title. The Academy has never met a war theme it didn't like to reward (in a different year, American Sniper could have cleaned up), and the fact that this one is as (allegedly) grim as it is provides only sweeter icing on the cake.
Best Documentary, Feature
Winner: Citizenfour (called it)
Laura Poitras's you-are-there portrait of Edward Snowden is the most effective horror film of 2014. Poitras wisely pulls back as much as possible from her subject, editorializing little and showing much about Snowden and the ugly state of affairs he revealed about the world. It would have been shocking had any other film taken the statue, perhaps almost as shocking as the absence of Steve James' documentary about Roger Ebert, someone who acknowledged the cultural ubiquity of the Academy in his reviews without actually granting it any real power or relevance.
Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Winner: Interstellar (called it)
The ambition of Christopher Nolan's space epic had perhaps worse odds stacked against it than its characters do against the enormity of their circumstances. It was nigh-impossible for the film to live up to its expectations - and it certainly fails to do so in the realm of storytelling - but one area that it exceeded all was in visual effects. Setting aside the purported verisimilitude of the black/wormholes, the film is an absolute joy to look at and just have wash over you. Some canny editor in the future will hack out all the shmoopy emotional stuff that handicaps Nolan and distill the film to its essential properties. I'm only disappointed to see that Nolan's DP, Hoyt van Hoytema, went unrecognized this year.
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Winner: American Sniper (called it)
Every year, I think I come a little bit closer to understanding the distinction between sound editing and mixing. I'd like to think that editing refers to the timing of the sound effects and how well they work in concert with what is happening visually. In that respect, American Sniper certainly did earn its award, as its aural impact can have a tendency to snap you back into reality if you get distracted by some of its more manufactured narrative aspects (i.e. the forced rivalry between Chris Kyle and the mute, mono-dimensional Mustafa).
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Winner: Whiplash (whiffed it)
I was convinced that these would be the two areas that American Sniper would seize and then have to hit the benches for the remainder of the ceremony. Not so. In retrospect, it makes complete sense that a film about music would win here, because of the masterful melding of the various instruments that come together in the film's electrifying performance scenes. Despite taking place in New York, the city isn't a character so much as the percussion and brass sections.
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
Winner: Selma - "Glory," written by Common and John Legend (called it)
Selma's consolation prize - and sole other nomination outside of its pipe dream Best Picture nod - could feel more painful. As pointed out by Mark Harris in his Grantland article, each Picture nominee took home at least one award yesterday evening, so it was good to see that Selma was able to bat .500 even in the face of the undue drubbing it received based on its allegedly inaccurate portrayal of Lyndon Johnson. Of course, we should always be sensitive about the legacies of cisgender, heterosexual, white, powerful men. Think of the children.
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel - Alexandre Desplat (whiffed it)
After nearly a decade of bridesmaid-ship, Alexandre Desplat finally got to take home the gold for his third venture with Wes Anderson. I'm definitely okay with the choice, given the rest of the crop, all of which are worthy of Oscars. I even defend Hans Zimmer's organ-tastic accompaniment to Interstellar, the mixing of which throws some dubiousness over the film's nod in that category. I find it to be appropriately epic and grand, and far more listenable than Desplat's mischievous tinkling for Hotel, which, out of context, is actually quite irritating. I believed that Jóhann Jóhannsson's score to The Theory of Everything would continue its awards onslaught, as it is the film's second MVP next to the anointed Eddie Redmayne.
Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel (called it)
To paraphrase Mark Harris, if this were an award for most makeup, then Foxcatcher would have run away with it. As it stands, Hotel also deserves this one. I personally like the inscrutable birthmark on Saoirse Ronan's cheek the most.
Best Achievement in Costume Design
Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel (called it)
Wea Anderson's legendarily monomaniacal approach to film production likely influenced each aspect of this film's creation, most of all in the visual categories, where it reigned supreme. Even if the actors play more like willing dolls in Anderskn's dollhouse, you will likely never forget what they're wearing. I personally dug the duds in Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner the best.
Best Achievement in Production Design
Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel (called it)
Anyone who believed that this would happen any other way must be living under a rock. It's about time an Anderson film were recognized for its art direction, and it might as well have been for this film, which is potentially the most outlandish yet by the filmmaker.
Best Achievement in Editing
Winner: Whiplash - Tom Cross (called it)
Although this was a long-shot call for me, I'm glad that I made it. The editing in Whiplash is essential to its propulsive power, and a huge achievement for relative newcomer Tom Cross. I thought the more likely winner would be Sandra Adair for Boyhood, due to its instrumental role in tying together the years in a seamless, profound way. If there any justice, these two films would have tied.
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Winner: Birdman - Emmanuel Lubezki (called it)
This a victory lap for Lubezki, who blew our minds all over again this year after the extravaganza of 2013's Gravity. His consecutive years of victory at the Oscar's call into question how he has failed to win in previous years. Review of his competition, however, provides your answers. He's either been up against film's of greater comparative visual ambition (Hugo, Pan's Labyrinth), or ones that have more prestigious clout behind them (Memoirs of a Geisha, American Beauty, Braveheart).
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
Winner: Ida (whiffed it)
After Leviathan took home the Golden Globe, I thought the Russian film had a better chance for the gold. Ida's greater availability (via Netflix) and its concurrent cinematography nomination made it a more sensible choice, ultimately. Plus, it's 80 minutes long, which Academy voters really can't argue with. The unspeakable snubbing of Force Majeure has still left me confused and saddened, but time will carve out its place in history.
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Winner: Big Hero 6 (whiffed it)
Although Disney's BH6 isn't afraid to traumatize children in its own way, I really thought that the Academy would go for DreamWorks's heavier How to Train Your Dragon 2 more readily than the superhero flick. It has the pedigree of Roger Deakins as visual consultant and the heft of a grittier story, but I suppose no one can resist the undeniable charm of Baymax, whom I consider to have single handedly cemented his film's victory. God, what a great character.
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Winner: The Imitation Game - Graham Moore (whiffed it)
This was the one category outside of Best Supporting Actor where I thought Whiplash had a lock, but then the Weinstein Company's somber honorific to Alan Turing swooped in out of nowhere, pulling the film out of complete rejection by the Academy. To use a word by my friend Andrew Rivard, I consider this film to be a "turd," one that has worsened in my mind over time, and is salvaged from complete obscurity only by Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, and Desplat's score. That it secured a statuette for writing is all the more baffling considering its oversimplified approach to Turing's sexual repression ("straightsplaining," to quote Dave White) and the utter lack of things for Knightley to do in her role.
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Winner: Birdman - Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo (called it)
The writing categories are often a sanctuary for otherwise ignored films that are nevertheless interesting, witty, or downright hilarious. Although Birdman is certainly all three of these things, I would have preferred to see Dan Gilroy walk away for this one for Nightcrawler, one of the most underappreciated films by the Academy of this year.
Best Achievement in Directing
Winner: Birdman - Alejandro G. Inarritu (called it)
Direction is a difficult nut to crack, because you never know where the director's role ends and everyone else's begins. I suppose the consistency of Birdman's tone is the work of Inarritu, as well as its ability to be consistent at all in the face of the ludicrous complexity of this film's production. It is also worth reiterating how much of a tonal departure Birdman is from the rest of Inarritu's oeuvre, all of which suffocates to various degrees under a sense of their own importance or wallows in unfathomable depths of misery. Although Richard Linklater has never been the most visually audacious of directors, his grasp on the enormity of Boyhood deserves acknowledgment, which I suppose it received simply by being nominated.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Winner: Boyhood - Patricia Arquette (called it)
This was the one area that Boyhood was doubtlessly going to win, as Patricia Arquette's wonderful performance had built up enough steam that it was veritably unstoppable. As for her competition, it simply wasn't their turn yet (Knightley, Emma Stone) or they'd had their fun already (Meryl Streep). I am still very happy about Laura Dern's nomination for Wild, whom I adore, but it just wasn't meant to be.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Winner: Whiplash - J. K. Simmons (called it)
It's really pleasant when what amounts to a lifetime achievement award and an award that is deservedly given to the honoree happen at the same time. Simmons is an actor who works, to the tune of 148 IMDb credits since 1986. He is the perpetual that-guy who enlivens everything he puts his hands on, whether it's somehow overshadowing GlaDOS in Portal 2, given the spark of life of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy, or chucking a symbol at a kid's head. In Whiplash, he accomplishes the latter and then some. Dressed and made up to look more or less like a giant, walking penis in funeral garb, he dominates the film yet somehow allows Miles Teller the space for yet another breakout performance. Here's to another 148.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Winner: Still Alice - Julianne Moore (called it)
Moore (along with co-star Kristen Stewart) is the shining light in an otherwise junky, exploitive movie. She can bring down the house with a look when the script would have her saccharine you to death. This is one of those long-overdue Oscars that are given out to a performer/artist who has put in decades of better-deserving work, but somehow never found the space to take it home in the previous years. Despite her previous four nominations (two of which were concurrent), Moore is a national treasure of American acting, and she has put in far more than just four worthy performances. Fun fact: Moore won a Daytime Emmy in 1988 for "Outstanding Ingenue in a Drama Series."
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Winner: The Theory of Everything - Eddie Redmayne (called it)
If anyone had earned his stripes for toiling away in the trenches and being underappreciated, it was Michael Keaton. This should have been his year, and it wasn't, because Eddie Redmayne was honestly just too good as Stephen Hawking to pass up the opportunity to award him for it. The Academy has a legacy to maintain, and it wouldn't have looked great had they neglected The Theory of Everything in favor of Keaton's committed, blistering performance as Riggan in Birdman. Redmayne looks the part and did all the requisite contortions, but the performance, like the real Hawking, was all internal. The Academy has a history of gilding performances based on a physical disability, but Redmayne transcended that stereotype and truly earned what he got. As for Keaton, we'll always have Gotham.
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Winner: Birdman (called it)
Up until recently, common wisdom dictated another split-win along the lines of the previous two years (Argo-Life of Pi; 12 Years a Slave-Gravity). In other words, Boyhood was supposed to win the big one, with Inarritu satisfied with a director's laurel. Unfortunately for all you Linklater fans out there, Boyhood failed to show up almost entirely, save for Arquette's acting win. Birdman became the biggest winner of the night, with its closest competitor in The Grand Budapest Hotel, which scored big in the visual categories and for music. The sweep narrative Birdman forged by knocking out all the guild awards made it too big to fail, and that's chiefly why I think it took home BP. I would have loved to have seen Whiplash swing in to the finish line from out of nowhere, or even for Boyhood to fulfill its place as the frontrunner, but Birdman ultimately prevailed.